Malnourished children: Unicef gets therapeutic food from US

Malnourished children: Unicef gets therapeutic food from US

ISLAMABAD: In view of the abnormally high number of malnourished children in the country, USAID under its Food for Peace Programme handed over 1,330 metric tons of food items to Unicef on Thursday.

USAID handed over 1,330 metric tons of ready to use therapeutic food (RUTF) supplies to address the needs of 80,000 children suffering from acute malnutrition aged between six to 59 months.

The ceremony was held at the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination (NHSRC). The in-kind contribution of foodstuffs valued at approximately $7.4 million will help Unicef reach its goal of treating more than 125,000 children aged six months to five years by 2015.

Unicef in coordination with the Ministry of NHSRC will supply RUTF under the nutrition programme across the country through provincial health departments, at its 70 stabilisation centres at DHQ hospitals, 300 outdoor therapeutic centres, lady health workers and various partners.

Therapeutic food is a dietary product made up of a vitamin-enriched peanut paste rich in protein, carbohydrates and other essential nutrients used for emergency feeding of malnourished children or to supplement the diet of persons with special nutritional requirements, such as the elderly and bedridden.

Speaking on the occasion, USAID’s Deputy Mission Director Nancy Estes said, “Pakistan ranks third in the global burden of stunting and wasting.  The high levels of malnutrition rates cost two to three per cent of Pakistan’s GDP each year.”

Head of the Nutrition Directorate, Dr Baseer Achakzai said according to the National Nutrition Survey, 10 million children under the age of five are suffering from chronic malnutrition and 3.7 million from acute malnutrition.

“These statistics regarding malnutrition among children under the age of five are really alarming and need to be urgently addressed,” he said.

Currently, RUTF products are imported through Unicef. “Every child from six to 59 months of age who is suffering from malnutrition requires at least 70 RUTF products, therefore there is a need to produce this kind of food locally to keep them coming in the long run.”

Speaking to The Express Tribune, an official in the Ministry of NHSRC who wished not to be named said that the local food industry has not started producing RUTF and RUSF due to multiple reasons such as its packaging, quality and shelf life which need to comply with international standards. Businessmen aren’t convinced that it would be a profitable undertaking, he added.

“Due to the abovementioned reasons and the decentralisation of the Ministry of Health under the 18th Amendment necessary legislation has not been passed, though it was on the agenda till June 2011,” said the official.